Category Archives: UMass Lowell

Move LHS to Cawley and revitalize downtown Lowell

By George DeLuca
June 20, 2017

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Lowell parents want the “ideal educational environment” for their children.

The following is my speech advocating for the “ideal educational environment” for the students, and, a viable economic development plan to revitalize downtown Lowell:

“You’ll notice that the signs ‘LHS Yes for Cawley’ don’t identify the bearers as parents of children affected by the decision you’re about to make tonight. But that’s who they are … they’re the parents of the affected children and their supporters. I’m one of those supporters. But I’m here tonight to speak to a broader range of issues.

We need a new high school in Lowell and we need a solid vision for economic development. Moving the high school to the Cawley site will allow the city to achieve both objectives, while clearing a major logjam that prevents economic growth.

UMass Lowell abuts the high school at the Tsongas Center. On the other side of the high school is downtown proper, Merrimack St. and Market St. On the other side of downtown proper is the Hamilton Canal Innovation District. These four segments of downtown are shielded from each other and do not interconnect or help each other in any significant way. In effect, they’re isolated operations that stagnate growth in downtown Lowell.

To improve flow and circulation, extract the high school operation from the downtown, and relocate it to the Cawley site. Then expand the Hamilton Canal Innovation District to include the vacated high school property.

UMass Lowell will then have a physical connection to the Hamilton Canal Innovation District at Arcand Drive, facilitating the creation of one unified concept for downtown and solving the incompatibility problem.

This operation will permit a natural flow between UMass Lowell and the expanded enterprise zone that will extend to and include downtown proper via Lucy Larcom Park and then along the Merrimack Canal to Hamilton Canal.

This new flow pattern will lead to the revitalization of the entire downtown, while offering new and expanded amenities for all to enjoy, as we render support for incubating business enterprises and make room for their spin-off manufacturing operations.

I believe the high school should be built at Cawley so downtown Lowell can enter a phase of revitalization and deliver a renewed vitality not experienced in the mill city since the 1960s.

This dynamic change will lead to rising property values across the city, growth of the tax base, and the creation of jobs made possible by the education and training programs offered by MCC and UML. Downtown growth and the proposed revitalization will benefit the entire city.

The new high school at Cawley and the expanded Hamilton Canal Innovation District will fuel these advances and help make Lowell a desired community for workers, visitors, students, residents and business owners.

The high school must be moved to provide the “ideal educational environment” for the students, and, the opportunity to revitalize downtown fueled by an expanded Hamilton Canal Innovation District including the vacated high school property.

We need a new high school. But we also need economic development, rising property values, and a flourishing tax base which will only be possible if we move the high school, expand the Hamilton Canal Innovation District and revitalize downtown.

We have an opportunity to unify the city and we need your leadership to make this happen. Make this decision the beginning of an exciting new era for ALL Lowellians. Thank you.”

Former Mayor Bud Caulfield supports Cawley Campus, delivers sage advice to Lowell City Council

By George DeLuca
June 7, 2017

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Bud Caulfield

 

On June 6, former Lowell Mayor Bud Caulfield expressed his support of Cawley Campus in an interview with 980WCAP radio host Teddy Panos.

Special thanks to Teddy Panos and 980WCAP where “Everybody gets it!”

Here’s Bud:

 

Aramark and UMass Lowell build food enterprise, endure growing pains

By George DeLuca
April 21, 2017

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Starbucks at Crossroads Cafe, University Crossing

Not long ago, there were only about 14,400 students attending UMass Lowell. Today there are almost 18,000 students enrolled with a projected long-range cap of 21,000, a number that serves the ultimate goals of the university as a research and development institution.

“If we achieve that, it puts us in a league of institutions nationally that are respected, they have a certain amount of research revenue coming in, and that will attract companies and good students,” said Steve Tello, UMass Lowell’s senior associate vice chancellor of entrepreneurship and economic development.

But increased enrollment has led to growing pains in areas of operations and management. With growth comes change and with change comes adjustment and adaptation. So, it should be no surprise that the food service leadership team is dealing with stresses manifesting from the continued expansion of the university.

“We have had over 100 percent growth in food service since 2007 and 2008,” said Dean Larry Siegel, associate vice chancellor for student affairs and university events. “We’re continuing to expand, expand, expand … and we’re asking Aramark to put themselves across eleven different locations with three distinctly separate dining halls. So, it’s tough to get a real efficiency when you’re spreading them out so quickly.”

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Crossroads Cafe at University Crossing

Despite the challenges, the partnership has realized some success. Aramark has helped UMass Lowell launch a hospitality division to bring in revenue from outside of the university in response to recent cuts in state aid. “This is outside revenue not revenue from students–netting $750,000 that goes back into the university operation to help offset and keep costs as low as possible,” Siegel said.

The ten-year relationship with Aramark has not been easy to develop, but to date, Siegel said he is satisfied with progress. “I think they’ve done a marvelous job, as I work directly with them. I know they care about our students,” he said.

New educational, dormitory and research facilities continue to meld into the landscape across campus. UMass Lowell is committed to providing the infrastructure necessary to accommodate increasing enrollment and the university is working feverishly to keep up with service demands. The transformation that has occurred at South Campus is a case-in-point.

The new dining hall at the McGauvran Student Center opened in January 2016, replacing the old Mill City Restaurant which was razed leaving an expansive area of green space for the enjoyment of students.

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UMass Lowell Dean Larry Siegel

Meanwhile, the new Riverview Suites dormitory added about 1,000 students resulting in a stream of interest in the South Campus meal-plan program. In turn, Aramark was directed to “just feed a thousand more people now!” said Siegel.

Since 2007, “we’ve renovated almost every single location across campus and Mill City is the last to undergo that transition” said Rachel DeGrigorio, the marketing manager for Aramark and a UMass Lowell alumni. She is on the front lines in the effort to keep up with food supply, processing and distribution on all campuses throughout the university.

Besides the dramatic increase in students with meal plans at South Campus, the need for infrastructure upgrades has led to a greater focus on sustainability. For example, the new kitchen, located in the basement area of the McGauvran facility required new equipment and utilities to replace the outdated 1970s food processing machinery of the old dining hall.

“Now the building is equipped with Energy Star equipment, which uses the least amount of energy possible. Water conservation is another huge advantage. We also have a new food-pulper,” DiGregorio said. The new machine transforms food waste into compost that can be used campus-wide in gardens and on landscaping projects.

The infrastructure improvements at McGauvran were supervised and managed by UMass Lowell, so basically, Aramark is responsible for food procurement, handling and service and they manage staff, operations and vendors at food venues across campus.

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Crossroads Cafe at University Crossing

However, there is a financial partnership whereas Aramark has made contributions to the university including $18 million to support projects like “the renovation of Fox Dining, oversight of retail brand operations like Starbucks and Subway and the creation of the Crossroads Café,” Siegel said. Aramark also assisted with renovations of the dining halls at the Inn and Conference Center (ICC) and McGauvran.

In response to the sudden deluge of hungry students, Aramark is developing a new auditing system to gather data about those who purchase meal plans. This system can differentiate between meal plan students, the commuter plan students and those who pay cash.

“There was a 30 percent increase (in meal plan purchases) at South and that number has remained constant through this academic year,” DiGregorio said. By contrast, 1,800 to 2,000 meals were served daily at Mill City Restaurant, whereas, the new McGauvran dining facility serves about 2,500 meals a day.

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McGauvran Student Center at South Campus

The newness and the comfort offered at McGauvran has enticed students to linger at the student center. In the old facility, “you came in, you ate, but why would you want to stay there?” DiGregorio said. “At McGauvran, you have beautiful windows that overlook the campus and soft seating so you can congregate and meet your friends.”

The Fox Hall dining facility at East Campus serves 5,000 meals a day and the ICC serves about 1,200 meals. Including McGauvran’s 2,500 meals, DiGrigorio estimates that Aramark serves between 8,000 and 8,700 meals a day, about 85 percent of which are served to students who have unlimited meal plans.

Aramark also manages the retail businesses and dining halls across campus and sometimes there is operational crossover for the sake of efficiency. For example, the Merrimack Market at McGauvran has a bakery that services the dining hall and the retail stations at Crossroads Café at University Crossing.

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McGauvran Student Center at South Campus

The McGauvran dining hall has required some additional service staff. However, the extra help on the floor is not necessarily proportionate to the increase in diners. “It might not be 30 percent because you gain efficiencies with multi-tasking. We probably added ten to twelve positions based on the transition including kitchen support downstairs,” DiGrigorio said, noting that qualified culinary hires are recruited at job fairs, but students are commonly used as seconds on the line and as assistants when needed.

Generally, DiGrigorio is confident that safeguards are in place to ensure that the food is being handled and processed properly. A city inspector makes the rounds periodically and there’s an independent company that performs monthly and quarterly audits. “There are certain challenges sometimes when you’re doing institutional cooking. We’re trying to create the freshest approach in mass quantity,” she said.

In terms of quality control, there are two executive chefs who “are the leaders from a culinary, kitchen and food standpoint,” DiGrigorio said. These rotating supervisors oversee the quality of the food served at the dining halls and can’t be missed in their tall white chef caps.

“We also have an operations director and a district manager who works on campus. They’re always out and about so they have that fresh perspective to go in and troubleshoot various issues that may arise,” DiGrigorio said.

DiGrigorio acknowledges that it can be difficult to keep tabs on everything since there have been so many recent changes. “Since 2009, we’ve had at least one major renovation every year if not more,” she said. “This is our first academic year when there have been no major changes.”

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Perkins Complex at East Campus

But expansion plans loom once again as the attention shifts back to North Campus and East Campus with the new Manning School of Business and the Perkins Complex dormitory about to open. Honors students moving into University Suites at East will be pleased to know that a dining program will be integrated with the Hawk’s Nest retail food center.

“We have grown the entire Honors Program to a point where it can fill a whole residence hall,” Siegel said. “Next year, University Suites will become home to the Honors Program, so we’ll have 470 students living there that I hope will consider the renovated area their exclusive dining hall.”

The Hawk’s Nest “will become a double-duty dining hall while retaining some retail at the location with a meal swipe component on weekdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.,” DiGregorio said. “It will be like a mini dining hall with a salad bar, deli and grill with an entrée option and seating for about 120.”

The Hawk’s Nest conversion to a hybrid facility should help accommodate the dining needs of University Suites residents and the additional 800 students moving into the new Perkins Complex. Hopefully, this new dining option will take some of the load off the Fox Hall dining facility.

“The university is expecting a sizable boom of activity and population on that side of campus,” DiGregorio said, so plans are underway to build a new retail center at Cumnock Hall, coming online by Fall of 2018.

“We’re going to start design soon to renovate Cumnock Auditorium into a dining facility,” said Siegel. “The project will allow us to put bathrooms that never existed on that floor, provide a central living room for students commuting to North Campus, and add a retail center much like the second floor of McGauvran–but not quite as large.”

As UMass Lowell continues its pattern of growth, Aramark’s ability to meet the needs of students has become a challenge–one that may require a stronger focus on communication. Siegel says that if there’s a problem, students can help their own cause by coming forward.

“We have a pretty high standard, but most of the time we don’t know what the problems are. If a student has a bad dining experience and they don’t tell anybody, we can’t fix it,” Siegel said. “It doesn’t matter what you want … tell us what you want and we’ll bend over backwards to get it for you.”

Dean of Student Affairs & Enrichment James Kohl, who oversees residential dining at UMass Lowell, agrees with Dean Siegel. “Sometimes students don’t complain and they’re not as vocal as they should be. If we’re going to make it good we need those student’s voices,” he said.

For assistance, the first and best avenue for general questions and generic feedback is to email dining@uml.edu, or go to umasslowell.campusdish.com where you can connect to the UMass Lowell University Dining Twitter, Instagram or facebook feeds.

For location specific inquiries, DiGregorio suggests that students complete the online feedback form at the link identified by the “Your Voice Counts” icon. One can also contact a manager at a specific dining hall. There are business cards at the swipe stations for this purpose.

“The university commits itself and expects Aramark to provide dining services at the same standard as every other aspect of this university and that is at a level of excellence. And anything short of that is something that we will all roll up our sleeves and address,” Siegel said.

Kohl co-chairs a dining steering committee that includes co-chair Aaron Bennos (Aramark), DiGregorio, Executive Chefs Mike Petit and Frank Hurley, UMass Lowell Residence Life student representatives, residence hall RAs and a student athlete.

“A lot of the information we discuss is brought to the group by the campus dining teams made up of RAs who represent what the residents have told them. Students that live in the residence halls can reach out to the RA on their floor and give feedback that way,” Kohl said.

Kohl also encourages students to talk to Residence Life staff and facility managers about dining related issues and to contact Aramark directly when there are questions, comments or concerns.

“We’re trying to find ways for students to be part of tailoring what their eating. I think that’s had some success although I’m sure we need to continue to work on that and continue to get the feedback,” Kohl said.

Students should also feel free to contact the Student Government Association Campus Environment Committee and members of the Residence Hall Association with information to help keep these and associated groups informed while keeping them abreast of any progress made in resolving issues of concern.

But challenges arising from the growth of the university are apparent. “The campus is growing so fast so it’s hard to make sure everyone knows everything. We’ve tried a whole bunch of stuff and some of it works well and sometimes you just keep trying,” DiGregorio said.

LHS site will feed Hamilton Canal vision

By George DeLuca
March 3, 2017

Last Tuesday, the City Council shortlisted the downtown and Cawley Stadium sites as possible locations for the new Lowell High School. The final selection will be made after completing a series of studies, including an analysis of the economic potential of the downtown site.

If the high school moves, it may be feasible to annex the site to the Hamilton Canal Innovation District increasing the available acreage from fifteen to twenty.

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“It’s not about space, per se, it’s about people.” Steve Tello

Many feel that a new vision is needed with a more Lowell-centric marketing plan bearing a Lowell iHub style brand. “It’s an exciting opportunity. If the decision is made to move to Cawley, the city should be thinking about the property as an extension,” said Steve Tello, UMass Lowell senior associate vice chancellor of entrepreneurship and economic development.

Hamilton Canal adjoins the high school property via a historic walkway along the Merrimack Canal from Market Street to Lucy Larcom Park. “It’s about a nine iron away from the high school property, maybe an eight.” said State Representative Tom Golden.

Observers say joining the two sites may also foster direct linkages with UMass Lowell’s Tsongas Center, the Wannalancit Mills Business Center, the Offices at Boott Mills, the entrepreneurial initiatives at UMass Lowell’s East and North campuses, and Middlesex Community College’s workforce development programs.

The concept presents some exciting possibilities, but there are also challenges. “The two sides of the canal are in very different places,” said Adam Baacke, UMass Lowell’s campus planning and development director and the former director of planning and development for the City of Lowell.

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The Kirk Street side has potential for residential with some mixed-use and retention of the Irish Auditorium. Lucy Larcom Park becomes a gateway to the waterfront from one direction, and, to downtown Lowell and Hamilton Canal from the other.

Baacke said he believes there is potential for a residential project on Kirk Street that would generate tax revenue. “I think the market is almost exclusively for housing and residential redevelopment. It is a historical building and therefore eligible for historic tax credits which probably does create a viable redevelopment concept that the market will support,” he said.

A portion of the Kirk Street concept could be mixed-use, and twenty-percent of the units would have to be affordable to qualify a developer for tax credits that would “close the gap between development costs and what the actual market returns would be,” Baacke said.

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The Arcand Drive side presents challenges that will require patience. But a mixed-use commercial and retail development has been discussed with the additional possibility of a municipal component.

However, Baacke said the Arcand Drive side of the high school property is more complex and he stresses the need for patience. “You can’t force market conditions just because you have a vision or a plan, but the absence of a vision or a plan almost guarantees that you’re not going to get anywhere,” he said. “We’d want to help the city make something happen there.”

Most agree that a clearer vision for economic development is needed in Lowell. Golden is currently pursuing $250,000 for planning purposes. But citing an innovative plan that Governor Charlie Baker will support isn’t an easy task. “One of the keys is trying to visualize what tomorrow is going to look like,” he said.

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Catherine Pujols-Baxley, KnipBio, 110 Canal Street

The University of Massachusetts, Lowell is spearheading its own economic development vision, one that has global reach. Since 2008, the university has developed the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2), a business incubation research and development initiative located at the Wannalancit Mills Business Center.

M2D2 has recently expanded its operations to 110 Canal Street at Hamilton Canal. “It’s a place where there’s room to grow if we’re successful in attracting start-up companies from different parts of New England to Lowell,” Tello said.

To execute his vision, Tello raised $5.5 million to fit-up two floors at the 110 Canal Street site, allocating one floor to the M2D2 program and another to a new tech initiative called the UMass Lowell iHub. “Once we got it built and operating, we had to recruit the companies, develop the operating model, and make sure there’s a positive cash flow,” he said.

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110 Canal Street at the Hamilton Canal Innovation District

Tello has recruited 20 companies, filling fifty percent of 22,000 square feet of the space. He expects the other half to be occupied within the year. “We’re doing our part to get innovation and industry moving in Lowell,” he said.

Tello, a member of the Hamilton Canal planning committee, said the group wants to create a mini-Kendall Square style concept that he hopes “will attract a mix of tech and commercial companies, with some residential, retail and restaurant activity built-in. That’s why the vision is so important. It’s not about space per se, it’s about people,” he said. “It’s about how many people you have living in an area; what their professional background, educational level, and income bracket is, and what kind of work they want to do. And if we have the right mix of people willing to come into town, then developers will build.”

Lowell City Councilor Jim Leary agrees that there’s room for mixed use at Hamilton Canal including residential. “Lots 8 and 9 next to 110 Canal Street are relatively tiny lots compared to the rest of the development and could be designated residential,” he said. “We need to build what the millennials will care about, those people in their 20s and 30s who have income to spend and want amenities like Mill 5. Later they can move up and buy houses elsewhere in the city.”

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New courthouse construction is well underway at Hamilton Canal.

The new courthouse at Hamilton Canal will bring about 1,500 people a day to the facility, according to Tello. A commercial build-out of the site could bring another 1,500-2,500 people. The high school property could yield up to 400 residents and another 500-1,000 people on the retail/commercial side depending on the configuration. In total, up to 4,500 people per day could be coming to the downtown area within the next 5-8 years.

Eventually, Tello hopes to attract larger companies like M2D2 sponsors Johnson & Johnson and Boston Scientific to the area. “It’s going to be two years before we see another building in the Hamilton Canal area. If we can get someone excited about a new building and get something open in two years, I think the timing could work out for the high school property,” he said.

Tello said that consolidating the two sites would enhance downtown walkability and facilitate access to the Merrimack River, but he also noted that the city’s biggest amenity is virtually invisible.

Companies want to know “where do my employees live, and where do they work and play? I’m not sure we have that all together yet for them,” Tello said. “It’s all in how you wrap it, how it’s packaged. There needs to be a vision that will attract people to the table. You need attractions and reasons to walk somewhere. We need to leverage our river by showcasing it more.”

Citizens group touts Cawley campus site for Lowell High School

by George DeLuca
February 3, 2017

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“Citizens for Cawley” group members Eric Nelson, Dan Finn, and Marty Tighe

A group of Belvidere parents would like to see a new Lowell High School built at the Cawley Stadium site in Belvidere, and not at the current downtown location. “It’s a misconception that the people of Belvidere don’t want the high school in their neighborhood. The tide is changing. There’s a younger family base in Belvidere and we want the high school at Cawley Stadium,” said Belvidere resident Marty Tighe.

Tighe is a member of “Citizens for Cawley,” an advocacy group formed to spearhead the effort to build the new high school at the Cawley Stadium site. The fledgling organization was formed by Belvidere residents, but the group is working to inform people of all neighborhoods in the city.

The group recently met with Lowell City Councilor Rita Mercier, who was impressed with their passion and willingness to act. “These are the people that are fighting for their neighborhood, saying, ‘this is what we want.’ I admire anybody who comes forward to do this. It isn’t easy to campaign. And these people work and have young children. That’s a lot and I admire that,” she said.

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Lowell City Councilor Rita Mercier at her home in Belvidere

Mercier, a Belvidere resident herself, was surprised by the position and initial findings of the group. “I was under the impression Belvidere people didn’t want it here and that’s just not true. There’s a lot of people that do want it. Don’t tell me and portray a message that nobody wants it in Belvidere. That’s not true,” she said.

When the group approached Mercier, she suggested they circulate a petition to gauge public interest in moving the high school to the Cawley site. Each member is now gathering signatures in neighborhoods throughout the city.

One of the group’s leaders, Eric Nelson is canvassing his neighborhood in Belvidere, but he’s also encouraged by the positive reaction of the people in the other neighborhoods of Lowell. “It’s a weekend effort, so we’ve only gone around a couple of days. We have about 200-300 signatures right now and we’re hearing positive things,” he said.

A cost analysis that breaks down all remaining options has been released to the public. Details will be discussed publically at a special meeting of the City Council School Building Committee on February 7 at 10 a.m. at the mayor’s reception room in City Hall, and again that evening at the City Council meeting. The following night, the results will be discussed at the Belvidere Neighborhood Group meeting at the Sullivan Middle School auditorium at 6:30 p.m.

Mercier is studying all available information about the alternatives including those that impact the students, parents, downtown businesses, the tax base, and city marketing. “I have to balance the pros and cons before I make a final decision,” she said.

The “Citizens for Cawley” feel that the downtown location would not be a feasible site due to ultra-difficult logistics and the high potential for delays and cost overruns.

The most active participants in the group are parents with elementary and middle school age children. Their main concern is that any project on the current site may disrupt and damage their children’s high school experience irreparably.

The three group members interviewed for this story have ten children among them, “and they’re all facing high school age so this issue is at the forefront of our mind. We also all grew up in the city and we decided to stay in Lowell, so for the short term we don’t want our kids in mobile classrooms,” Tighe said.

Lowell City Councilor Dan Rourke has school aged children in the fifth and eighth grades who will be directly affected by the decision. “One day in a modular classroom is one day too many,” he said.

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Ken Delisle (LHS class of ’62) signs petition for Eric Nelson

Nelson is finding that most Lowell residents aren’t aware of the details of the project, the options that are available, and the negative impacts of orchestrating a $330 million (more-or-less) construction project on-site with school in session. “People need to think about the ramifications of putting the kids through a mobile classroom experience over a four to five-year period,” he said.

Belvidere resident Dan Finn agrees. “I have a fourteen-year-old that will be going to the high school next year, and I have a three-year-old that will be going there in ten years. I don’t want either of them to experience high school in a modular building. I do want them to experience high school in a classroom setting most conducive to learning,” he said.

Mercier recognizes that a four to five-year building project at the current location may have a negative impact on a student’s education experience. “It may affect their ability to learn and it’s a lot of stress on people. I don’t know about all this disruption,” she said.

On the other hand, group members are excited about the benefits of having recreation and sports grounds and fields right on campus. Mercier shares their enthusiasm. “Isn’t it amazing that all the athletic fields are right there? There are many students that would like to take part in sports, but they don’t have a way to get out there. That may keep kids occupied after school and there may be a greater emphasis on sports,” she said.

The “Citizens for Cawley” are hoping that the city council will approve a modern, efficient, integrated academic and athletic campus style experience. “What’s best for the whole city is a brand-new state-of-the-art self-contained campus project at Cawley where there’s access from every corner of the City,” Nelson said.

Rourke remains open minded about the ultimate location of the high school, but he clearly wants a new facility. “This is our last chance for the next fifty to seventy-five years. While people differ on location, the overwhelming sentiment of the public is we need a brand new state-of-the-art high school,” he said. “The Cawley option is intriguing because it offers a campus lifestyle for all students.”

One issue drawing heated discussion throughout the city is the need for a traffic study and remediation plan, regardless of the chosen location.

“Obviously, the city would have to work with the neighborhoods with respect to traffic to alleviate any concerns,” Rourke said.

Mercier is aware that a new high school at the Cawley site poses traffic issues, but she’s confident they can be worked out. As a member of the decision-making team, she wants to hear from people of all neighborhoods so that she can take a position that best benefits the entire city.

“When people consider moving to the City of Lowell, the very first question they ask is ‘how’s your educational system?’ That’s their number one factor for moving here,” Mercier said. “It’s not about the quality of life of the people of Belvidere. I don’t know any neighborhood that hasn’t been inconvenienced by traffic. That’s part of life. This is about what’s good for the city as a whole.”

UMass Lowell professors give thumbs up to proposed digital media expansion

By George DeLuca
December 10, 2016 (updated December 16)

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Dr. Robert Forrant conducts a historical tour in Lowell, MA

The future of UMass Lowell’s Digital Media Program may be the best kept secret at the university. The “interdisciplinary minor in Digital Media is designed to provide students with an opportunity to explore the theory and practice of media as it is being produced on the ground today.” Last February, Julie Nash, the vice provost of Student Success, said the Digital Media Program could add a major by the Fall of 2017.

Not all professors at the university know about the plans to expand the digital media program. But those who do are excited about the proposed major because it will further enhance their ability to prepare students for “the real world” far beyond the offerings of the minor. “The mind boggles at the potential of the program,” said history professor Dr. Robert Forrant.

Currently, the digital media minor has about sixty students enrolled. Forrant lights up at the thought of an increase in enrollment in the program, especially if it means attracting students who have already achieved a degree of competency in filmmaking and digital media.

“If I’m teaching a course on the history of urban renewal in Lowell, I may want to go to the person running the digital media program and say, ‘I’d like to have your program help me make a twenty-minute documentary. Can you help?’ That would be right up my alley,” Forrant said. A stronger program will significantly increase the odds for achieving Forrant’s vision.

Filmmaking has a language of its own. English professor Thomas Hersey believes that digital media literacy is crucial to student development, but the principles of conveying a well written story into an audio/visual asset must be learned in steps. To help accommodate this need, he is planning a film society for honors students who want to learn about the language of film and film theory.

Hersey also believes that a collaborative spirit will grow among professors as signs of the transition to a major fully manifest and additional resources become available.

“Oftentimes when people can see what can be done by way of extension from one community to another, they’re excited about it. It’s mutually beneficial. But it’s hard to see the benefits before the transition starts in earnest,” Hersey said.

The expansion of the digital media program may also raise the stature of the university in the eyes of the community, while encouraging joint projects.

Forrant envisions an advanced filmmaking curriculum at UMass Lowell that will nourish an initiative he is developing to “try to get the city, the university and Lowell National Historical Park to engage in the creation of a tenement house museum somewhere in downtown Lowell, like the one on the Lower East Side in New York City,” he said.

Forrant believes the project may foster a spirit of creativity and comradeship among students and faculty. “I can imagine some students in the digital media program going out and filming on location in the city to create footage that can be embedded in this digital tenement house that we’re building,” he said.

Forrant and other professors believe the digital media major will reinforce UMass Lowell’s resolve to turn out students who are ready to use various media platforms to formulate, develop, and distribute ideas.

“I understand how digital media can become part of coursework. It’s another skill that students need to have by the time they graduate. They need to be digital media literate in the ways they communicate. Digital media skills are part of a various range of jobs today,” said Dr. Chad Montrie, who has produced documentary films himself. “I think there’s a lot of student interest in film and filmmaking at UMass Lowell,” he said.

Hersey believes the digital media major will strengthen the broad-based foundation for filmmaking and multimedia production at UMass Lowell and enrich all curricula in the process.

“I see possibilities galore where there can be overlap from department to department, and with students from the humanities to the sciences. With all the resources that are out there, the possibilities for collaboration are endless,” Hersey said.

Hersey suggests the formation of a steering committee that crosses disciplines to develop a long-term focus for the digital media program. “Not only are we looking for cohesion among the various players at the university, but we can also create a force multiplier,” he said.

Part 1: Renovations planned for UMass Lowell’s O’Leary Library

Part 2: Partners pave way for digital media major

Partners pave way for digital media major at UMass Lowell

By George DeLuca
November 29, 2016

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O’Leary Library at UMass Lowell South Campus

The digital media major at UMass Lowell may no longer be on track for a Fall 2017 unveiling, as some associated with the program hoped it would be. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that partnerships are forming to address additional requirements in a growing effort to make the major a reality.

With intra-university paperwork still routing through the appropriate channels, attention has turned to the studio facility standards that must also be met for the major to gain credibility. O’Leary Library Director George Hart and digital media program director Dr. Wael Kamal have been busy negotiating an agreement to pool their respective resources, while joining forces in pursuit of a path to compliance for the major.

The library is “in the midst of a transition, and part of the transition involves partnering with other units on campus,” Hart said. To date, a final announcement has not been made on the digital media major. But Hart is forging ahead with the planning process, including studying the feasibility of reprogramming the digital services center at the O’Leary Library.

“We’re looking at the idea of consulting space where experts, not just librarians, from our staff around campus will consult with faculty, and they will plan curriculum, technology pilots, and different things. And then we’re talking about a studio where they can execute,” Hart said.

Some of the facility-oriented elements needed for advancing the viability of the digital media major are already in place. “Right now we have the ‘sandbox,’ which is a studio for certain kinds of high-end classroom recording sessions that are broadcast and put on the internet,” Hart said.

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O’Leary Room 140

Besides the “sandbox,” three other facility components are on-tap to beef-up the digital media program: O’Leary Room 140 in the Learning Commons area, the planned renovation of the digital services center, and, the availability of additional resources offered by Lowell Telecommunications Corporation (LTC) in downtown Lowell.

Room 140 is already set up as a lab and a classroom. It has Mac workstations with the full Adobe suite installed, large wall monitors for screenings, and an elaborate sound system. “We can do workshops there, and our digital media program is beginning to utilize it,” Hart said.

Hart is also planning a complete renovation of the digital services center. “We’re in the process of repurposing the former media center into a more broadly defined digital services studio,” he said. Hart and his staff are visiting other colleges to look at their digital studios. “We’re reviewing the best, most efficient, effective, and appropriate equipment and services that we can place in our new concept,” he said.

According to Hart, the digital media program is welcome to use his vision for a digital services studio for grant writing purposes. “Dr. Wael Kamal, is applying for a grant to try to move the program forward. The grant requires a studio like the one we’re planning on building. He has consultants coming in to help him advance the program,” he said.

Julie Nash, the vice provost of Student Success, has been involved in the initiative since her role as associate dean in the Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Services college. Although she’s no longer on the front lines, she has stayed involved and is supportive of the digital media program’s development. “We are finalizing the proposal and looking to invite external reviewers to campus pending final approval,” she said.

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Digital Services Center at the O’Leary Library

Hart said that the consultants will identify the design standards and programmatic requirements for the digital media major. It’s hoped that the planned digital media studio space will “be the place that receives the consulting folks to feed us the criteria for recording, editing, graphics and all the digital services tools that have to be applied,” he said.

Hart hopes to have the space transformed into a studio by next summer. His vision calls for the digital services space to be gutted and renovated. If Hart’s project proposal is approved, the wall adjacent to the mezzanine will also be opened to facilitate access to the mezzanine study space.

Meanwhile, Kamal said he is “working with academic and community partners including the O’Leary Library & Lowell Telecommunication Corporation (LTC) to advance the digital media major proposal through shared resources. As an example, students in the major will have the opportunity to access LTC’s high definition three-camera, professional TV studio for class projects.”

Kamal also said that he’s pleased with the spirit of collaboration that exists on campus. “There is a partnership, a strong collaboration happening within the digital media program (now a minor) and the digital services department located at the O’Leary Library,” he said.

According to Kamal, the digital services center will share resources, equipment, and archives and, in return, the digital media program can contribute student staffing as available when the need exists. The digital media program can also provide student videographers and assistance with video productions when needed. The arrangement is designed to “serve both sides,” said Kamal. And of course, the expanded partnership with LTC will add another element towards meeting the digital media major requirements.

“In November 2016, the studio at LTC will get three new Sony HD (hi-definition) cameras, a full size teleprompter, a new ‘TriCaster’ switcher with digital graphics and virtual set capability, a wireless intercom system, and a full size audio board with a live telephone interface,” Kamal said. “This partnership with LTC will allow for high quality live and recorded productions with opportunities for our students to be directly involved with Lowell’s public access TV station.”

If the digital media major is officially approved, UMass Lowell will be able to add film school to its complement of disciplines across the university. Nash is encouraged by recent progress. “I am happy to say that the collaboration between the digital media academic program and media services in the library will only provide better access to resources and expertise for our students, and we are more excited than ever about future steps for the program,” she said.

Part 1: Renovations planned for UMass Lowell’s O’Leary Library

Part 3: UMass Lowell professors give thumbs up to proposed digital media expansion